Do you need to go to university after SPM/IGCSE/PT3? The answer is no

Many would assume that there’s only one path post-secondary school which is, upon finishing SPM/IGCSE, you must do a foundation programme or A-Levels, then enrol in a university. Following that, one needs to find employment, find a partner etcetera etcetera. 

Not only is university an extremely costly endeavour, it may not be a financially viable option (private institutions may set you back RM70,000). More importantly, however, enrolling in university may just not be right for you.

In this article we’ll attempt to deconstruct societal norms and highlight various viable pathways one can pursue post-university.


A reflection on why we go to university

Societal and media norms often portray immediately jumping into tertiary education to be the only ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ progression after high school. Movies not only often glamorise university life, but they are also mainly saturated with characters from one type of economic background – the middle to upper class. This is not representative of the circumstances of the actual population.

The reality is that university is a significantly larger commitment (and investment) than mainstream media dares to reflect. Fresh out of high school, it’s understandable for one to feel confused and lost about their future and ambitions. It’s a sudden and daunting shift from “What’s the latest movie to watch next weekend?” to “What do I want to study for the next 4 years of my life? How do I wish to contribute to the economy?”. On top of the huge financial commitment of up to tens of thousands for tertiary education tuition fees, taking one’s time to explore all the viable options and to better understand oneself may prove to be the next wisest step.

Taking time (6 months – 1 year) to work before committing to a tertiary education programme is one of the most common and pragmatic routes after high school. By getting a job, one exposes themselves to the real working world while developing a more practical grasp of managing their own income and expenses. These kinds of real-life experiences could still be learnt later on, and may also be integrated into one’s university programme. However, there’s a significant difference between learning about things in theory, and actually experiencing things. 

One could do a biomedical science degree in university and excel in the subjects learnt. Nonetheless, working in the actual field as a researcher or lab technician poses a completely different lifestyle to that of studying the field. By doing an internship in a field of potential interest prior to committing to a degree, you could develop a clearer career direction. Additionally, one could also discover one’s actual likes and dislikes to avoid costly course switches midway through a programme.

As mentioned, even pre-university courses have annual tuition fees that range up to tens of thousands. This added monthly expenses takes up significant cash flows, and is not easy to provide for. For some families, the topic of undergraduate studies might be completely off the table due to its financial infeasibility, especially in light of the pandemic-induced economic downturn.

With that said, it’s more important than ever to not lose grit for one’s goals. Though it is true that tertiary education can be invaluable to leverage on, attitude and experience are equally powerful. Take the example of Tan Sri Vincent Tan. He now has an estimated net worth of USD 1.6 billion, and is the founder of Berjaya Corporation Berhad, a conglomerate listed on the Malaysian stock exchange. Originally, Tan Sri Vincent Tan planned to study law overseas in New Zealand. However, after a financial downturn in his father’s business, he worked as a bank clerk right after high school. By the age of only 23, which is also the age most people are just entering the workforce, he became an agency manager for AIA. Clearly, he continued on his pattern of climbing up in the business world until his present-day success. Career climbs in general are not easy, additionally not being equipped with a degree may be viewed as a disadvantage. However, time and time again, we can see from entrepreneurial stories like these that success blooms from even in the harshest of soils. 

Not everyone is fortunate to be able to afford tertiary education or to become a billionaire after high school. Even so, there is a lesson to be learnt from these stories of rags to riches. It is not that university is unimportant to success, nor it is also that one should completely forgo pursuing tertiary education. Instead, it is that success is able to bloom from even the harshest of soils. There is no one route to success, as there is also no single definition of success; we should all strive to approach our personal circumstances from an opportunistic point of view to realise the road to our ambitions.


TVET – Technical and Vocational Education and Training

If one has pursued various internships and has found a field that is of great interest, and wants to develop their expertise in that field, one may not need to pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (“TVET”) is a viable alternative that may be worth considering. This programme may be one of the best choices especially if you’re keen on applying knowledge related to technologies, sciences, or general education, across various institutional and work settings. 

Breaking down what this foreign sounding programme is, TVET is an educational and training process that emphasises industrial practices, preparing learners before stepping into the workforce. The formal, non-formal, and informal learning focus on a range of scopes, varying from industrial training to the application of psychomotor skills. For instance, if one had the chance to work in a car workshop during their holidays and found great enjoyment, getting a formal training and education in this field with a TVET programme would be a more efficient way to become a mechanic. 

This programme in Malaysia is offered at degree, diploma, and certificate levels by various ministries, including the Ministry of Higher Education (“MOHE”). It can be enrolled by PT3, SPM, or through the National Dual Training System. SPM qualifiers, for example, can opt for TVET by enrolling at a Community College, polytechnics or MTUN (Malaysia Technical University Network), whereas STPM/Matriculation school leavers and Diploma holders can advance to MTUN’s degree qualification.

Overall, this vocational training provides a platform for those without academic qualification to master their knowledge and practical skills even better than those with academic certification. With that, both TVET and academic qualification open the doors to career opportunities. 

TVET courses offer the flexibility of venturing into different fields yet also specialising in one. An example is a programme offered by Berjaya’s TVET college to gain a “Certificate in Management and Administration. Depending on how “in-depth” you’d like to go, you could be studying for a year or for four.

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Depending on your household income bracket, you may opt for financial aid to fund these studies. However, if a 1-year commitment still sounds a bit too much, a Malaysian Skills Certificate may be more suitable.


Malaysian Skills Certificate 

Similar to TVET, which allows you to incorporate your knowledge across institutional and work settings, Malaysian Skills Certificate, or Sijil Kemahiran Malaysia (“SKM”) is a national certification that is offered in five authentication levels. 

Malaysian Skills Certificate, or Sijil Kemahiran Malaysia (“SKM”) is a skill-and work-based qualification, which is offered by Jabatan Pembangunan Kemahiran (“JPK”). Students who have shown the necessary competencies to perform tasks for employment in the technical and practical work fields are more inclined to choose this certification. 

SKM can be obtained through three methods, which are industry-oriented training, training in a recognised institution, and accreditation of prior achievement. Similar to pursuing a career with academic qualifications, SKM is an option for upskilling, a career path and personal growth for learners. 

Some of the career pathways available that can open up after gaining a certificate include; the automotive industry, education, clerical work, food production among others. 

Other anecdotes on how TVET programmes helped individuals achieve their goals, include Mohd Hazzerwan Mohd Hazzlee. The aforementioned figure founded “Wan & Mary” in 2018, which is a clothing brand mixing high and street fashion. Later, he furthered his studies in education at Heriot-Watt, which illustrates how an undergraduate study is not needed early on to enrol in university, and that masters programmes are a viable pathway as well. 

Another individual who used a TVET programme to pursue his interest is Aiman Hakeem Aminuddin. He noted that he didn’t even check his UPU (university application) results, as he was determined to study at a vocational college, citing his interest in picking up life skills, in this case light vehicle maintenance.

The point, however, is that one should pursue whatever interests you the most! Whether you’ve found a passion early on, a TVET/MSC programme may be more effective in getting you to your dream destination. That being said, university enrolment may be perfect for you – the chance to study a field further in-depth after picking up some foundational knowledge during your early years. With that, we’d like to share two stories detailing their experiences in university.  


Some perspectives on the university experience

University has been rewarding and it’s definitely in its own way, a training for the real world. I’m lucky to say that my current course is something I truly enjoy and would want to pursue further even after graduation. My only regret would be wasting time and money on past course switches, which could have all been avoided had I been more sure of myself from the start, and less insecure about losing out as everyone else was jumping into prestigious courses in elite schools. At the end of the day, I have realised that for any commitment to be sustainable, it has to be something that you value and can see the meaning in. Enjoyment and ease may be mistaken for actual ambition. However, nothing is easy all the time. You will know that you truly want to do something and are capable of committing to it when you see it contributing towards your goals and future, despite hiccups along the journey. If I could talk to the 17 year old me, I would tell her to stay true to her ambitions and goals and not force something unnatural onto herself, because in the end, no one can do your work for you.

  • Jennifer Ley, General Secretary of FLY 2021-2022

University, so far anyway, has been a great experience, and I’m grateful for the opportunity and privilege to get to study fields I’ve been interested in from a young age. The highlights have been engaging in discussions on what’s come and what’s to come, understanding new perspectives that challenge perceptions I had, and delving deeper into curiosities. Other than that, it’s been rewarding to have met great people along the way, and take part in activities with other like-minded people.

However, I do not see myself furthering my studies upon completion, desiring to gain experience in industries, and being slightly jaded with academic articles and dealing with exams. The only thing I’d have to say to prospective undergraduates, is to make the most of any opportunities but also have fun!

  • Muhammad Bahari, Research Director of FLY 2021-2022



Vulcan Post. 2022. 7 M’sian Entrepreneurs Who Dropped Out Of College To Pursue Their Own Vision. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 May 2022].

Karim, M., 2018. Tvet, a viable pathway. [online] New Straits Time. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 May 2022]. n.d. MOE – Maklumat Umum TVET. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 May 2022].

MTTC college. n.d. TVET in Malaysia. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 May 2022].

Global Institute of Studies. n.d. SKM. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 26 May 2022].

Researchers: Ley Ho Ying (Jeniffer), Nik Farhana binti Nik Hasnan, Muhammad Bahari

Reviewer: Muhammad Bahari

Editor: Ahmad Ayziel Zulkifli

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